Seeking a decent life for domestic workers

Trade unionist’s phone has harrowing texts from domestic workers; says people don’t value the profession 
Seeking a decent life for domestic workers

What you need to know:

  • Ruth Khakame is the head of the National Domestic Workers Council of Kudheiha, a trade union that advocates for Kenyan workers’ rights.
  • She dreamed of becoming a nurse but her family couldn’t afford university fees. At age 19, she moved to Nairobi, later becoming as a domestic worker at her aunt's home.
  • She ran for the National Domestic Workers Council leadership position and won.
  • She recruits, organises and mobilises domestic workers, as well as campaigns to improve their working conditions and wages.
  • Migrant domestic workers, typically in the Gulf, worse off for a lack of support and being stranded far from home.
  • If Kenyan workers need help the union has a 24-hour toll-free line.
  • Covid-19 has exacerbated domestic workers' woes. 
  • Last year, nearly 45,000 Kenyans, mostly women, registered to migrate to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.
  • They work as housekeepers, nannies with few legal protections — no unemployment benefits, safety regulations, nor job security — and are vulnerable to abuse.

Ruth Khakame is frequently woken up in the night. Sometimes it’s the fault of WhatsApp — the constant stream of messages beaming a UFO-like light shaft towards the ceiling of her home. On other occasions, it’s the urgent phone calls — a domestic worker has been chucked onto the street, another says she has been poisoned.

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